Where'd You Go Bernadette
Maria Semple

by contributor

Jack Shields

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Reviews

Review by Janet Maslin

In her review, Janet Maslin talks about the presentation of the Microsoft elite in Seattle as shown in Where’d You Go, Bernadette. Maslin begins by highlighting the experience that Bee had as she presents her report card to her parents. She also quotes from the book that Seattle is a place “where compassion, academics, and global connectitude join together to create civic-minded citizens of a sustainable and diverse planet” (Maslin np). In her review, she aims to show that Seattle is a conducive environment for many people as it enables them to attain the level of affluence that they seek for. It is no wonder that Bee performs well in her studies, by scoring straight ’S’s in all of them. Maslin also shows the straightforward nature of characters depicted in the book. For instance, Bee reminds her parents of the promise they made, that they would give her anything she wanted in exchange for doing well at school.

In the review, Maslin also talks about Bernadette’s lack of proactivity. She agrees to give Bee the present that she had asked for, a visit to Antarctica. However, Maslin mentions how Bernadette was willing to delegate all the preparation plans to Manjula Kapoor, her “virtual” assistant in India, shows the lack of commitment in doing it on her own, and feels that seeking the assistance of third parties to carry out Bernadette’s responsibilities shows that she does not hold a keen interest in being of great help to her family (Maslin np). The reviewer also writes that Bernadette has little interest in her family; concerning herself more with the daily monotony, and seeing activities and responsibilities as bothersome.

Maslin also seems taken aback with Bernadette’s decision to pay 75 cents an hour for the services of a “virtual” assistant. She also mentions the difference that exists between Bernadette and her virtual assistant. Bernadette is rather unfriendly and likes to grumble, someone whom Maslin sees as likely to fail to participate in other activities that people take part in (Maslin np). On the other hand, Manjura, the assistant is polite and efficient. She is ready to listen to the constant grumbling of Bernadette, as well as being ready and willing to take up all the roles that she is given.

Review by Heller McAlpin

Heller McAlpin’s review shows how satire is utilized to create a warm feeling. More specifically, she aims to show the effects of a marriage between a hyper-achieving woman and an even-more-successful man. McAlpin goes even deeper, examining the effects that occur when the woman is forced to quit her job in order to take over the role of a stay-at-home mother. She was not used to staying at home and, therefore, finds the new arrangement a lot more difficult than she had initially anticipated. McAlpin details that there are various assets that help to make the book more insightful (McAlpin np), including the author’s fresh and sassy voice that can be easily felt in the book. However, one particular asset that makes the book more appealing is the fact that it is yet another tale of a bored housewife. Semple has used the narrative of bored housewives in her previous books, but this time aims to provide another perspective regarding the challenges that such women normally experience. For the most part, they try to engage in activities that offer them the kind of fun that they wish was a regular occurrence in their lives.

Bernadette is bored with her life, having quit her job as an architect. She does not like the idea of participating in the same activities as other stay-at-home mothers, feeling that such a life is highly monotonous for her (McAlpin np). Bernadette, therefore, wishes for the kind of life that will create major appeal for her. She is used to being creative and exploring her imagination; staying at home would do little to improve her lack of creativity and continue to decrease her usefulness to her family and other people as well.

McAlpin also states that the book contains vivacious humor, and suggests that when creative minds cease to develop and imagine, they become a menace to society. Whilst in Los Angeles, Bernadette was arguably at her most creative, dreaming up and constructing the ‘Twenty Mile House’. Her idea of constructing a home only with materials that were found within a 20-mile radius of the construction site was a mark of ingenuity (McAlpin np). However, when she chose to move to Seattle with her husband, Elgin, she would become troublesome. For instance, she continually gets into confrontations with her neighbor, Audrey Griffin, who is also an influential parent at Galer Street. Right from the time Bernadette stops taking part in architecture, she retreats away from the world. She does not seem to care much about her life and the people around her, including her family. Neither does Bernadette like forming relationships with other people — with the exception of her virtual assistant, who she considers as her friend.

McAlpin is, however, still keen to show the relationship that exists between Bernadette and her daughter, Bee. Although Bernadette ran away from home, it is evident that she still thinks about her daughter and cares for her. She tells her to really enjoy life, and through that process she will become more interested and find the things that really captures her attention. She will also have the chance to avoid people who might exert a negative influence on her life. The approach will be important in enabling Bee to be an outstanding member of the society.

Review by Kel Kanady

In this review, Kel Kanady states that the book, Where’d You Go, Bernadette, provides a window into Seattle, giving the reader the chance to get acquainted with the different elements that characterize the city. These include Microsoft, coffee and rain. Kanady further states that all the elements described in the novel still fail to capture all the delights and cleverness that has been provided in the story. The reviewer also appears to be impressed by the level of detail provided in the plot, and summarized by the words; “Bernadette is missing” (Kanady np). That information leads the reader to develop a keen interest in the story, desperate to gather the necessary insights into the actions that Bernadette’s family take as they try to find her and bring her back home.

Kanady also points out that the writing contains a high level of sophistication, although the story is being told by a 14-year-old. Thus, Semple’s choice to use Bee to tell the story does strike a blow to the novel as it remains competitive and a powerful tool of literature. Kanady also shows that Semple expresses the danger that herself and other artists are in where they choose to suppress their creativity. She aims to show that artists need to put in a lot of effort into their work. It is only after they decide to suppress their talent that they fail to be of value to others. There is also a possibility that such people might get frustrated in situations where they feel that they do not yield as much influence as they once did. As a result, they need to be more observant of their lives to ensure that they are of benefit to others through the expression of their talent.

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